2021 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research awarded

Wednesday, 17 November, 2021

2021 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research awarded

Research to improve bone marrow transplantation and to use computer science to understand how stem cells work has won two Australian scientists $55,000 each in the annual Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research, awarded by the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia. The awards are named for the late Professor Donald Metcalf AC, who helped transform cancer treatment and transplantation medicine — paving the way for potential stem cell therapy in the treatment of many other conditions.

Associate Professor Siok Tey, a clinician researcher at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, is researching treatments that will improve the survival and quality of life for her patients with leukaemia or other blood cancers. She will use her $55,000 Metcalf Prize to improve the outcomes of bone marrow transplantation, which rebuilds the blood and immune systems to protect patients from leukaemia relapse — but not all patients stay in long-term remission and the treatment often comes with serious side effects.

“Bone marrow transplantation is an important form of treatment for blood cancers but it cures only two-thirds of patients,” said Assoc Prof Siok. She plans to identify which transplanted cells provide protection from leukaemia relapse and which ones contribute to complications, and to use this knowledge to develop better treatments.

Dr Pengyi Yang, based at the Children’s Medical Research Institute and The University of Sydney, meanwhile plans to remove much of the guesswork from stem cell science by mapping the many complex influences that control stem cells and how they specialise into different cell types. Winning a Metcalf Prize will help him develop a suite of tools that will help researchers interrogate the ‘big data’ related to stem cell specialisation more effectively, from how adult stem cells function in healthy ageing, to the way transplanted cells work in regenerative medicine.

“Today’s stem cell treatments have been the product of trial and error,” Dr Yang said. “My virtual stem cell will allow us to understand what’s happening inside a single stem cell that makes it decide what type of cell it will become, be it hair, skin, muscle, nerve, blood or other.”

The 2021 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research will be formally presented at a special event later in the year.

Image caption: Dr Pengyi Yang and Associate Professor Siok Tey.

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